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Finance sector stands behind Governor's push for SMEs and inclusive growth

Article - April 14, 2015

As Dr. Atiur Rahman is honored by invitation to speak at the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank, United World looks at how the finance sector has worked with the Governor to ensure inclusive growth.  As the only Central Bank Governor speaking at the meetings, we look at the Bangladesh financial sector from the perspective of the top management of 13 key financial institutions in Bangladesh. From international and state owned, to commercial; there is one thing that they all agree upon – inclusive growth within the financial sector is reducing poverty and driving economic growth at over 6% per year. Over the next week, United World will feature a different financial institution on each day, with the following a summary of selected quotes from each exclusive interview.


Abrar A. Anwar Standard Chartered Bank

As the oldest and largest international bank in Bangladesh, Standard Chartered has shared in both Bangladesh’s success and hardship for 110 years, continually striving to help its people. New CEO, Mr. Anwar, sat with United World to highlight the importance of attracting foreign investment as well as the great strength of Bangladesh.

  • “We are extremely focused on how we help our communities grow along with the banking sector.”
  • “Seeing is believing. Somebody outside is probably just hearing the negative about the country, but if they really dive into the fundamentals of the country, if you look at the numbers, it's probably one of the most stable economies in the world.”
  • “We need international investors to come along to support the huge investment requirements of the nation.”
  • “The biggest strength that our country has is the resilience, which comes from the entrepreneurial spirit of the people.”

Md. Mehmood Husain Bank Asia

One of the youngest and most progressive banks in Bangladesh, Bank Asia is a bank that dares to dream and thinks internationally. United World sat down with Mr. Husain, CEO of Bank Asia, to discuss the role technology can play in reaching out for inclusive growth, reaching beyond traditional conceptions of bricks and mortar banking. He also highlights the importance of changing perceptions of Bangladesh to attract more investment and achieve greater trade.

  • “The Central Bank, they have taken an interest in inclusive banking through which they want to achieve inclusive development in the country. Since banking is one of the most vital forces in the growth and expansion of the economy, we are also aligned with the Governor of the Central Bank's agenda.”
  • “We have explored the markets through which we can get cheaper rates for our customers, and we are still fighting to reduce charges due to the international communities’ perception of Bangladesh’s instability. This could be reduced if there are proper campaigns about the achievements of the economic situation repeatedly made to the outer world.”

Syed Mahbubur Rahman BRAC Bank

BRAC is a familiar name to all those working in NGOs, but to many in Bangladesh it is now BRAC Bank that touches their every daily lives. Syed Mahbubur Rahman talks to United World about BRAC’s beginnings as an entirely SME-focused bank, as well as its significant growth and regional outreach. BRAC Bank has truly aligned itself with the Bangladesh Bank.

  • “The Central Bank Governor is a very strong leader and he doesn't want to see any bank going bankrupt.”
  • “It is not about just profits. We’re going beyond... we’re going to the doorstep of the customers and striving to make their lives easier through automation and the best service quality.”
  • “BRAC Bank believes in the 3 P philosophy - people, planet, profit. When you bank with people and the planet in mind, profit automatically follows.”

Muhammad Shafiq Bin Abdullah ICB Islamic Bank

ICB Islamic Bank is another respected international bank. It has been investing in Bangladesh for 10 years. ICB Islamic Bank, after taking over a collapsed local bank, should see a return to profit this year, truly a remarkable achievement, which as the CEO Mr. Abdullah explains is due in many ways to embracing SMEs.

  • “Islamic banking is something that there is high demand for. The people of Bangladesh need more in terms of Islamic banking.”
  • “SME growth has been vital for us in turning this bank around and we must thank the Governor, as he has been instrumental in pursuing these policies.”

Mr. Shah A. Sarwar IFIC Bank

IFIC Bank has distinguished itself as perhaps the safest and most sustainable bank in Bangladesh. As a local bank with part Government ownership, IFIC continues to look for growth in sectors with good fundamentals. As Mr. Sarwar explains, IFIC is focused on the long term, and for Bangladesh the long term looks very bright indeed.

  • “To achieve any goals, you need three things. Number one, you need commitment, direction and vision. Number two you need sustainable investments. Number three, you need some kind of political and social stability.”
  • “I have to connect with the basic economy, that is true. So we are trying to build a sustainable economic model where not only we will develop, but the people will. We have a very defined business plan for rural areas, for women's finance, for SMEs, for agriculture finance, for rural finance, and for microfinance.”
  • “I want to stick to the fundamentals and basics of banking where you do business for the long-term.”

Mr. Shamsul Huda Khan National Bank

Amongst the oldest commercial banks in Bangladesh, National Bank has a long history of embracing entrepreneurialism and counts many of Bangladesh’s most successful businesses as their clients. As Mr. Khan explains, National Bank has been about inclusive growth and SMEs right from the start.

  • “National Bank has been putting money on the ground from the very beginning, because it is part of the Governor's Green banking, SME and agriculture banking initiatives. Our Governor, Dr. Atiur Rahman, is giving us many facilities to do so.”
  • “We have 179 branches and at least 25 branches are dedicated to agricultural business and each branch has a dedicated SME department.“

Md. Shafiqur Rahman Social Islami Bank Ltd.

With increased demand for Islamic Banking services, Social Islami Bank is seeing unprecedented growth and returns. As CEO Mr. Rahman explains, Social Islami Bank is increasing its focus on technology and inclusive banking for the benefit of stakeholders and clients alike.

  • “We have many aspirations and the Central Bank continues to support us and the entire banking industry in realizing them.”
  • “SME banking is perhaps the defining policy of the sector here in Bangladesh and it has been not only good for the people, but very profitable.”

Dr. AHM Habibur Rahman Sonali Bank

Sonali Bank, the largest in Bangladesh, is using its exceptional network to reach out to those in the most remote areas of Bangladesh, fostering growth and developments in these communities. Sonali Bank, as Chairman Dr. Rahman explains, has made exceptional progress in instituting better corporate governance as well as reducing NPLs

  • “Creating and supporting entrepreneurs is our most important policy.”
  • “We have made exceptional progress with guidance from the Central Bank. In particular our corporate governance, and our NPL ratio have both improved.”

Dr. Mohammed Haider Ali Miah EXIM Bank

EXIM Bank has completed its evolution to Islamic banking and significantly increased its returns, as the CEO Dr. Miah explains, much of this is to be accredited to Bangladesh’s Central Bank

  • “Agriculture will be drastically increased because at the Central Bank they have taken a good number of initiatives for the development of our agriculture sector.”
  • “The Central Bank has also pushed for female entrepreneurship, so all banks are now giving that investment to the female entrepreneurs.”

Mr. Sohail R. Hussain City Bank

City Bank is one of the oldest and largest commercial banks in Bangladesh with a unique and efficient structure. City Bank prides itself on its corporate governance and efforts to offer a “financial supermarket” in terms of its products. As CEO Mr. Hussain explains, City Bank has contributed immensely to Bangladesh’s image building efforts by attracting foreign direct investment as well as fostering domestic growth through financial inclusion.

  • “If you look at where we started as a poor country plagued with problems, disasters and so on, there has been a massive transformation in terms of industries being set up, in terms of access to jobs, primary education and GDP growth. However we still have some negative perceptions. Banks have an important role in terms of getting a positive message out.”
  • “Specifically in terms of the financial sector, you need to look at this sector as the most regulated and robust sector, especially in terms of transparency.”
  • “Our SME segment is growing at around 28%, that's actually faster than what our corporate and our commercial sectors are growing.”

Mr. Selim R. F. Hussain IDLC 

IDLC takes a unique position as a non-bank financial institution. As CEO of IDLC Mr. Hussain explains, IDLC has made significant steps to evolve and take on new business in Bangladesh as they focus on SMEs, not only to foster inclusive growth, but because it is an exceptionally profitable niche for the fast moving institution.

  • “The SME business makes great money and great business sense for us, we have a very good model, and we are very good at it, we consider it not just about inclusive growth but as a key business segment for us.”
  • “If you look at the consistency of the economy, there is relatively low volatility compared to other countries. If you look at things like a large base of low cost labor, a large population, increasing consumerism, this is India 30 years ago, this is a country where there is significant opportunities.”

Dr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir The Farmers Bank

As perhaps the youngest bank in Bangladesh, The Farmers Bank prides itself on reaching out to farmers to facilitate the growth of their businesses. As the Chairman of The Farmers Bank explains, there has been exceptional efforts made to improve the quality of development in Bangladesh, and The Farmers Bank is committed to ensuring the private sector leads the way.

  • “Bangladesh has made tremendous progress in three key areas, agriculture, education and health. In the future such investments by the government and private sector will be returned 1000-fold.” 
  • “The Farmers Bank is a young bank, but it is also one with a very specific vision, we are reaching out to the farmers in these remote regions and we are seeking to really give these farmers the chance to realize their potential, to become SMEs and larger more efficient enterprises.”

Mr. Shahid Hossain Southeast Bank

Southeast Bank has fully aligned itself with the Central Bank’s efforts for inclusive growth lauding the Governor’s achievements and ensuring that their implementation brings value to its stakeholders. As CEO Mr. Hossain explains, Bangladesh is intent to give back to the community through its exceptional CSR activities.

  • “The Governor makes policies to get banks more involved in CSR activities.” 
  • “Before 1983 there was no private banks, and there was much less industry, and few entrepreneurs. After liberalization and with the guidance of our visionary Governor we are creating inclusive growth.  He's a very down-to-earth man and he thinks for the poor people, he thinks for the woman entrepreneurs, he thinks for the green banking. He's a very capable leader; an extraordinary man, a visionary leader.”

Dr. Atiur Rahman “It is not the growth but the story behind it which is much more exciting."